What Patients Should Know About Methadone Treatment

Since the early 1950’s, methadone treatment has provided an effective treatment solution for helping recovering addicts overcome the effects of opiate addiction. When abused, opiate drugs, such as heroin, morphine and prescription pain medications, can have devastating effects in a person’s life. To add insult to injury, these drugs make it all but impossible for addicts to stop using once they realize the damage that’s been done.

Patients considering methadone as a treatment approach can benefit from knowing how the medication works as well as any potential drawbacks treatment may bring. While methadone has a long-standing history of treatment success, everyone’s needs are different. Ultimately, a person’s individual treatment needs become the best gauge for determining whether methadone is the right choice.

Methadone Treatment

Addicts recovering from opiate addiction continue to experience withdrawal effects and persistent cravings long after they’ve stopped using. As a treatment medication, methadone all but eliminates residual withdrawal effects while reducing persistent drug cravings, according to Columbia Psychiatry.

Since methadone is a synthetic opiate medication, certain conditions dictate how the drug can be dispensed. As a result, methadone treatment programs must operate under strict federal regulations that require patients to obtain daily doses of methadone from authorized methadone clinic facilities.

Substitution Therapy Approach


Methadone must be obtained from a licensed clinic, and is usually taken daily.

With methadone being an opiate-type medication, it stands to reason that methadone treatment merely substitutes one form of opiate addiction with another. While this perspective does hold some validity, methadone treatment is designed to work in much the same way as insulin works to manage blood-sugar levels.

In actuality, methadone differs from other opiates in three ways –

  • Methadone has long-acting effects
  • Methadone carries a low risk for addiction
  • Unlike other opiate drugs, methadone does not produce a “high” effect

As addiction tendencies can stay with a person for years after the last drug dose, recovering addicts have a better chance of “managing” the disease-like effects of addiction through methadone treatment.

Side Effect Profile

Methadone’s treatment effectiveness relies heavily on patients receiving the right daily dosage amounts. According to the U. S. National Library of Medicine, the right dosage amount will relieve withdrawal and cravings symptoms without inducing a “high” effect. Consequently, patients may likely experience side effects from the drug until a stable dosage level is reached.

Side effects commonly experienced from methadone treatment include:

  • Constipation
  • Headaches
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Drowsiness

As methadone can take anywhere from three to seven days to build up in the system, there’s a potential risk for overdose during the initial dosing period. It’s imperative that patients keep doctors informed of any drastic changes or unusual symptoms experienced during this time.

Treatment Duration

On average, people receiving methadone treatment remain on the drug for at least a year or more. This time frame gives brain and body processes time enough to repair from the damage done by years of opiate abuse. As a medication treatment, methadone can be taken for as long as 10 years in cases where patients are recovering from long-term addictions. Once a person feels ready to come off methadone, drug dosages are tapered over the course of three to six months to lessen the likelihood of withdrawal.

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